Government to shut down malls to save power (12:20 p.m.)

MANILA — The Philippine government, grappling with electricity shortages brought on by a long drought, said Thursday it will ask shopping malls and factories to shut down for several days to ensure an uninterrupted power supply during May elections.

Optical scanning machines will be used for the first time to count the votes and transmit them electronically, but some poll watchdogs have expressed fear of a failure of the May 10 national elections in case of power cuts.

A consortium that won the bid to provide 80,000 machines has promised to supply back-up batteries.

Energy Secretary Jose Ibazeta said the government will ask malls and factories in the southern region of Mindanao, which has been worst hit by daily rotating blackouts lasting several hours, to shut down or scale down operations for three days from May 9 to 11 to save energy.

The dry spell has caused water levels in hydroelectric dams to drop to critical levels as blackouts spread to Manila and other parts of the northern and central Philippines.

"What we want to make sure is that all the election precincts will have power to conduct the elections peacefully and properly," Ibazeta told reporters.

Elections have been a logistical nightmare in the impoverished Southeast Asian archipelago nation, marred by allegations of cheating and political violence.

An estimated 50 million Filipinos will elect a president, vice president, 12 senators and 286 House representatives among 17,000 national and local positions that will be contested.

Police say political violence has already claimed close to 80 lives, including 57 people massacred Nov. 23 in an election caravan in the southern Philippines. (AP)

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